The Kern River Ranger District unveiled its plan to restrict overnight camping along the upper Kern River corridor to developed and designated dispersed camping areas only. The plan, which could be implemented as early as Memorial Day weekend, was presented during a public meeting held in Kernville on Jan. 23.
“The Kern River is being loved to death,” said District Ranger Al Watson during opening remarks to the group of about 50 residents. To illustrate his point, slides were shown depicting piles of trash, human waste, diapers and overflowing garbage bags in several of the more heavily used areas.
The area of discussion centers on the 20-mile stretch from Riverkern to the Johnsondale Bridge, a section that can be overrun with visitors on holidays and summer weekends. Currently, visitors are allowed to camp anywhere within the river corridor, unless posted otherwise. This has resulted in excessive trash, over-crowding, congested parking and damage to the river resources.
“Every weekend visitors come up, and leave their trash and we simply do not have the resources to pick it up. It’s time to tackle the situation, and the best way to eat an elephant is one bite at a time,” Watson said. “And with your help, we will get the Kern River back to the way it should be.”
The KRRD began a review of the negative impacts to the river corridor in 2010 when the Upper Kern River Action Plan was first released in an effort to address increasing resource damage and sanitation concerns caused in part by dispersed camping within the Upper Kern Wild and Scenic River corridor. The purpose of last week’s meeting was to introduce the Forest Service’s proposal and get feedback from the community.
Tricia Maki, District Recreation Officer outlined the proposed plan, which consists of three components: partnerships, management changes and information and enforcement.
“The partnerships will help the Forest Service stretch our budget and limited resources,” Maki said. She said volunteer organizations such as the Keepers of the Kern, a local grassroots organization and Kern River Conservancy, an organization out of the Los Angeles area, have recently helped clean up along the river and other recreational areas. “In the past three months, these groups have cleaned up 20 miles of river.” Maki also recognized Thomas Refuse, who has provided dumpsters free of charge on the clean-up days.
The management changes propose the largest impact to camping.
If implemented, overnight camping would be prohibited outside of the developed and designated dispersed camping areas along the upper river corridor and camping would only be allowed in designated areas where amenities are provided.
Maki stated that the Forest Service proposes to convert two of the designated dispersed campgrounds Half Way and Thunderbird to fee campsites for group camping. Both campgrounds would be able to accommodate large groups of 12 to 50 campers and would be available on a reservation basis.
“River access will not be taken away, and you will be able to go and enjoy these spots for a day, but you won’t go through 12 layers of tents and trash,” Maki said.
Developed campgrounds are those where a fee is charged and under management of California Land Management (CLM). The developed campgrounds within the upper river corridor include Headquarters, Camp 3, Hospital Flat, Gold Ledge, Fairview and Limestone.
The designated dispersed campgrounds are free of charge and available to overnight camping. Amenities are limited to dumpsters and portable restrooms and managed by the Forest Service. They currently include: Half Way, Thunderbird, Corral Creek, Springhill, Old Gold Ledge, Ant Canyon, Chemise Flat, Caulkins Flat and Brush Creek.
“All the spots in between these areas will be limited to day use only,” Maki said. We think it makes sense to limit camping to designated campgrounds.”
The third component of the proposed action plan focuses on information and enforcement.
Maki noted that the Forest Service is considering reactivating the information kiosk in Riverkern on busy holiday weekends and putting campground hosts in the campgrounds. She noted that law enforcement will be a key component of the proposed change. The Forest Service has hired additional law enforcement officers and will have up to six officers on the weekends who can issue citations for illegal camping or littering.
“We don’t want to be heavy-handed, but we want to have a presence on the river,” Watson said.
Watson stated that they will be relying on the media in Bakersfield and Los Angeles areas to get the word out about the changes in camping policies that will take place this summer.
The residents in attendance were receptive of the proposed changes, and offered additional points for consideration. Based on the feedback during last week’s public meeting, the proposed changes will be welcomed and supported by area residents.
PHOTO: District Ranger Al Watson addresses attendees at the Jan. 23 Forest Service meeting held to discuss issues regarding the Upper Kern River. The evening meeting was held at Kernville Elementary School. Administrator, KRVR.org firstname.lastname@example.org
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